With a little over a week until the National Football League regular season kicks off, players are hoping to avoid final cuts while preparing for the upcoming campaign but one retired player is pleading with the league for help with his mental state, as the world watches on social media.
Over the weekend, former Baltimore Ravens fullback Le’Ron McClain tweeted about being a mess and went on to explain that he was having trouble sleeping because of anxiety, claiming that his “brain is tired.” McClain, 34, went on to reach out to the NFL by tagging the company in the tweet, pleading that he needed his head checked because he’s currently battling dark times of depression-like symptoms. For years, the NFL has dealt with the steadily increasing worry of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a neurodegenerative disease from repetitive hits to the head, which became a very prevalent and legitimate worry about a decade ago, thanks in part to the 2015 film Concussion and the deaths of several former professional athletes, including the 2012 suicide of Hall of Fame linebacker Junior Seau, whose brain was later examined and found to have CTE.
McClain has continued to post semi-cryptic messages and popped off several more tweets early Tuesday morning, complaining about another sleepless night in tears, while asking his followers to pray for him. The last tweet was the most worrisome, as the two-time Pro Bowler explained that he wanted to get his story out there and that he’d be updating on what’s going on daily, explaining that it was “the darkest shyt ever.”
A former fourth round pick out of the University of Alabama, McClain split seven seasons with the Ravens, San Diego Chargers and the Kansas City Chiefs, even earning First Team All-Pro honors in 2008. His talent and longevity helped him earn almost $11 million during his career, before retiring in 2014 and becoming the CEO of Alpha Nation, a men’s clothing apparel company. McClain’s struggle comes on the heels of 30-year-old Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck announcing his immediate retirement from the league due to mounting health concerns.
One of the most common replies to McClain’s tweets asks why the ex-player, who made all of that money in such a short amount of time, doesn’t just spend the money to seek help?
The average career of an NFL player is just over three years, while the average NFL player made $2.7 million for the 2017 season. Sure, that may sound like a lot of money to you and me but $8 million can disappear quicker than you might think for a variety of reasons, the biggest of which might be post-career adjustments. Think about it: if you’re a professional athlete making $2.7 million a season, or in McClain’s case a little more on average, you live a certain lifestyle but once you retire, that income vanishes and now you have to adjust from the potentially more lavish way you lived for the last several years. It’s this reason that can make life after football difficult and while I don’t know McClain’s current financial status, the lazy response of “just spend the money and get help” could be difficult.
Let’s not forget the cost of union dues to the NFL Players Association, which is $15,000 per season, and offers the promise of taking care of players when they retire. Yet here is McClain, reaching out to the league, asking for help when it’s clear he’s mentally unstable. But McClain, like any of today’s athletes growing up playing football, knew the potential risks, right? Of course he did. These players know the potential damage being done to their bodies and how hard they’re pushing themselves in the name of money, fame and the chance at a Super Bowl win. But the NFL, and it’s union, need to take care of former players no matter what their level of stardom, not cast them off like misfits or tie them down with an inordinate amount of paperwork. It just shows that the bottom line is still the king for the NFL, and the other major sports leagues like the National Hockey League, and it’s easier to fight the CTE monster than fully embrace it, fighting the problem and failing to admit the connection between the illness and a violent sport, even if the league pumps out commercials about new helmets and better steps towards player safety.
In the past, players have often kept it bottled up inside or out of the public eye, so no one knows there was anything wrong until it’s too late. Many people on the social media website have reached out and offered help, like former Pittsburgh Steelers kicker Jeff Reed. No word on if McClain has taken Reed, or any other person, up on their offer. McClain has shared his symptoms of anger, sadness and anxiety with the NFL and the world – the league needs to help this alum before it’s too late.